BACKGROUND: Identification of modifiable risk factors that could prevent or slow the development of age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) would be valuable. Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake may be related to age-related hearing loss.

OBJECTIVE: We aimed to determine the association between dietary intakes of omega-3 (n-3) PUFAs and fish and the risk of presbycusis.

DESIGN: The Blue Mountains Hearing Study is a population-based survey of age-related hearing loss (1997-1999 to 2002-2004). We collected dietary data by using a semiquantitative food-frequency questionnaire and calculated PUFA and fish intakes. In 2956 participants (aged >/=50 y), we measured presbycusis, which we defined as the pure-tone average of frequencies 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, and 4.0 kHz >25 decibels of hearing loss.

RESULTS: There was an inverse association between total n-3 PUFA intake and prevalent hearing loss [odds ratio (OR) per SD increase in energy-adjusted n-3 PUFAs: 0.89; 95% CI: 0.81, 0.99]. There was an inverse association between long-chain n-3 PUFAs and incident hearing loss (OR per SD increase in long-chain n-3 PUFAs: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.60, 0.97). Participants who had >/=2 servings of fish/wk compared with participants who had <1 serving of fish/wk had a significantly reduced risk (42%) of developing presbycusis at follow-up (multivariate-adjusted OR: 0.58; 95% CI: 0.35, 0.95). There was an association between consumption of >/=1 to <2 servings/wk of fish and a reduced risk of a progression of hearing loss (OR: 0.53; 95% CI: 0.32, 0.88).

CONCLUSIONS: There was an inverse association between higher intakes of long-chain n-3 PUFAs and regular weekly consumption of fish and hearing loss. Dietary intervention with n-3 PUFAs could prevent or delay the development of age-related hearing loss.